Tumultuous disturbance

first published on Blogwatch.ph

It was not the usual platitudes at the podium by the President, who seemed to be caught off guard during his Independence Day speech in Naga City by a brief chanting some 40 feet away. The words “Patalsikin ang pork barrel king! Walang pagbabago sa Pilipinas” rang through the mass of civil bodies and involuntarily filled in the two-second gap. In that brief moment, 19-year-old Ateneo de Naga student Emmanuel Pio Mijares seemed to deliver a dagger that disrupted Aquino’s thoughts and disturbed his imagined peace.

It was tumultuous disturbance but not in the way conjured by the President’s security personnel and the local police. It was tumultuous because there’s the precise political context that made Mijares’ statements extra explosive.

At that precise moment when President Aquino was weaving independence, freedom, democracy and justice into a nine-minute speech, Mijares stood out as real-life test of such grand concepts. On the same day, various groups launched protest actions to demand justice and accountability over the pork barrel scam. Ironically, the powers-that-be chose the hard-line treatment, making injustice and imprisonment of a heckler the theme of the day. Mijares was forcibly dragged out of the venue, was thrown to jail, and slapped with two criminal charges (on tumults and other disturbance, and direct assault). It couldn’t be more ironic.

Yet in a society where political opposition, especially as expressed by activists in Mijares’ mold, are met with ferocity, the consequence of the Independence Day “disturbance” is not surprising at all. The incident presents a preview of the Aquino government’s treatment of anyone who sharply questions the status quo, even if not expressed in a chanting fit amid a presidential speech. Even under this regime, critics are not just manhandled. I know several activists who have been killed or abducted under Aquino’s watch for their advocacies on human rights, labor, and environment. As Marocharim wrote:

“What Pio Mijares did is still a political act, a political expression, and it speaks volumes about the kind of political action you can expect from those who share his beliefs. Yet the treatment of him speaks something about the kind of politics that this administration subscribes to. The latter is far more damning than the former.”

Mijares could have just been ushered out of the venue and maybe verbally reprimanded. President Aquino could have just done an adlib, citing Mijares’ acts as indicator of democracy. He could have just requested his defenders on social media to lecture Mijares on Proper Decorum 101. But the highest official of the land was clearly caught off guard. While Mijares was prepared to face the consequences, Aquino seemed to be unprepared to handle the permutations of democracy which he ceremonially cites. And probably too, “pork barrel king” hurt him, because it is somehow true. Remember the first time President Aquino reacted to the “pork barrel king” tag? He was fuming mad.

The fact that Mijares was charged with tumultuous disturbance and direct assault for merely chanting and holding out a banner tells a lot about Aquino’s leadership. Why on Earth should he be charged as such? Like a hurt big guy, Aquino seems bent at making the kid suffer and at parading him as example of how speech disruptors would be treated. But rather than create an image of a trustworthy leadership, such response to Mijares’ heckling clearly presents a threatened childish leadership. It’s the kind that heavily values political alliances and friendships in this trying pork scam crunch time, yet imposes the full force of law on young unarmed hecklers.

What’s at stake in Mijares’ case isn’t the foundations of civility and respect for those in positions of power, but the very foundations of our free expression and democracy. Mijares presents a fine litmus test, in which his loss would mean criminalization of heckling. Conversely, it’s not as if letting Mijares scot-free would encourage rebellion and make public institutions and the head of state less worthy of respect. It is the President’s soft handling of allies tagged in the pork barrel scam that make the Palace less worthy of respect. Mijares’ bold move was just an expression of the public trust deficit to institutions right now.

The short supply of public trust to public officials isn’t something that will happen following Mijares’ acts. It has been around since the pork barrel scam erupted last year, and it is not hard to sense it in the buzz in barbershops and campuses. If this government is indeed worried about losing any semblance of authority and respect, then it should diligently pursue a case against its allies in the same depth and extent as that of the anti-Pogi, Tanda and Sexy crusade. President Aquino should spare no one in the pork barrel scam, not even his close friend Budget chief Butch Abad.  He should order the dropping of charges against Mijares, to at least assure that this government still values free expression and tolerates dissent of citizens, even in heckling form.

But heck, the Aquino administration finds it really hard to prove its “Daang Matuwid.” At the current rate of things, the young heckler activist’s slogan trumps the bankrupt yellow rhetoric. And in pursuing the prosecution of Mijares, the Palace, with the Naga police as proxy, is waging a political battle it can never win.


Napolist of bureaucrat capitalists

first published on Blogwatch.ph

And so the controversial Napoles’ list or “Napolist” is out, at least the conflicting versions of former senator Panfilo Lacson and pork scam whistleblower Benhur Luy.

Did we hear the legislative branch crash to the ground as warned by the rehabilitation czar? There was confusion, but there was certainly no collapse – at least for now.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives was even busy at work rushing the approval of Charter change (Cha-cha) at the plenary on Wednesday as the public grapples with the long list of names in the Napolist. On the sides, Lacson and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago (who was not actually in Lacson’s list) were trading unsavory sound bytes for the press, creating the added distraction. With the Napolist confusion and frenzy in place, the neoliberal lawmakers are revealing more of what they really are: they are not just corrupt, they are “bureaucrat capitalists” at heart using public offices to secure their economic interest and that of foreign businesses, to borrow a term from national democratic activists.

At the precise time when their oath to serve the interest of the Filipino people is being tested, these lawmakers even chose to advance the agenda of foreign business lobbyists frequenting the halls of Congress. They chose to play deaf to the renewed spike in public dissent over the pork barrel scam. They instead danced to their favorite Cha-cha tune while the pork scam storm rages outside, in a fitting affirmation of their devout belief that foreign investments will solve the country’s problems.

The chambers of landlords and local businessmen, which we wish had collapsed as soon as the lists were out, are engineering a different collapse under Cha-cha. It is not the kind that will cut short their political careers but the broader, much wicked type that will see the local economy crash and burn and thousands of workers thrown into joblessness.

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PH workers are racing to the bottom, not to Boracay

First published in Blogwatch.ph

Days ahead of Labor Day, #Laboracay has been making a buzz in social media. To my dismay, it has nothing to do with the essence of the International Workers’ Day but has everything to describe middle class fantasies: a holiday spent in Boracay island, complete with the imagery of half-naked bodies dipped in crystal-clear waters. Netizens who were too excited for their Labor Day trip embarked on a #Laboracay barrage much earlier, bragging their gym routines or flaunting their swim wear. Good thing Boracay Hater compiled all their petty concerns into a hilarious post.

By bragging their #Laboracay escapade, they are also flaunting their skimpy ignorance of what Labor Day really is – which is about the massacre of protesting workers who asserted the eight-hour workday and other rights at work which most Boracay-goers are enjoying. But we cannot blame them, for their ignorance is only shaped by a socio-economic structure that is increasingly reversing the gains of workers’ movements and burrowing labour and unionism in oblivion.

We can however at least remind Boracay-goers a few things about the issues and struggle of Filipino workers, who with their poverty wages cannot actually afford even a promo Boracay trip.

From the previous regimes up to the current Aquino administration, Filipino workers are increasingly forced to race to the bottom as wage levels hardly catch up with rising prices of commodities and basic services. Current average daily basic pay of Filipino workers is only at P348.75, or just enough to buy two Grande Java Chip Frappucino. The average wage is way short of the conservative estimate of the family living wage (or the amount needed for a family to meet basic needs), which is at P1,068 as of last year.

infographic workers

Skewed wage system

The situation is made worse by a highly skewed regional wage setting based on the Wage Rationalization Act: the farther you go from Metro Manila, the lower the minimum wage is even if prices of goods and services are more or less the same. Such setting granted companies the flexibility to relocate areas with the cheapest labor, spurring an exodus of production firms from Metro Manila to Calabarzon, Central Luzon and Davao where labor costs are cheaper for the same kind of work. In a sense, this arrangement made extraction of higher profits and higher rate of exploitation possible.

Just in case Boracay-goers won’t dare ask the hotel staff and waiters, the current daily minimum wage in Aklan is P287 for companies with more than 10 workers (P6,888 a month) and P245 for companies with less than 10 workers (P5,880). I presume they are paid lower than these rates, as companies normally do not comply with the mandatory minimum wage. And jobs in the tourism sector are highly volatile, as employees are trimmed as off-peak season sets in.

Still in line with saving on labor costs, an ever increasing number of companies are using contractual work arrangements to extract higher profits and evade paying benefits and union formation of employees. Contractualization is most prevalent in construction (81.21 percent), hotels and food service activities (50.26 percent) and manufacturing (48.64 percent), and is being implemented under various modalities – from labor outsourcing to creation of labor cooperatives.

Jobless growth

In terms of employment, the number of jobless Filipinos has been hovering near the 3-million mark despite the slew of job fairs and emergency employment programs unloaded by the Aquino administration in the past four years. In January, unemployment rate hit a nine-month high at 7.5 percent despite the economy’s strong showing at 7.2 percent GDP growth last year. I already explained the enigma behind the jobless growth in a previous post, and I expect the Aquino administration to continue to overlook what is really wrong with its jobs paradigm especially now that it is so eager to press the Charter change (Cha-cha) button as soon as Congress resumes session on May 5.

Depressed wages, rising contractualization and severe joblessness remain unaddressed by President Aquino who seems to be contented with hyped job fairs and a bankrupt investment-driven job generation. His oblivion of the Filipino workers’ plight is certainly much worse than those who indulge in #Laboracay.

Today, workers will not be enjoying a luxurious time in Boracay. They will be the men and women busily serving the Laboracay-goers. In Manila and elsewhere, they will be in throngs marching on the streets, fighting for labor rights. In social media, their will register their common voice simultaneously with massive protests via #May1Fight. #

Philippine Dance Delight Vol. 02: Results


Three Pinoy crews are going to Singapore to compete in the Dance Delight Vol. 05 Finals after emerging as winners in the Philippines Dance Delight Vol. 02 last Saturday at the SM Skydome.

FMD Extreme topped the intense competition with their sleek moves, including a suave rendition of VST and Co.’s “Sumayaw Sumunod”. The all-male Tha Project 1.0 was first runner-up, dancing superbly in sync with a Pentatonix mashup. AMA Dance troupe meanwhile landed in the second runner-up spot.

A total of 24 crews competed in the event that was organized by A-Team Philippines for the second time. The competition’s judges included music producer/ broadcaster Jungee Marcelo, Gin of O-School SIngapore and Japanese dance guru Dominique.


Hats off to A-Team Philippines for consistently creating opportunities for Pinoy crews to showcase their craft and take on the bigger stage overseas! And good luck to the three teams who will compete in Singapore on May 10.


1. I wasn’t able to take a photo of any of the three winners as I was frozen in awe while watching their amazing performances, hehe.

2. I initially rooted for Prolocate because of their unorthodox contortionist dance piece, but the judges had a point when they said this is a dance battle and that crews must be in competitive form.


Why job prospects for 2014 graduates remain dim despite growth

First published at The Philippine Online Chronicles

jobless growth

Another batch of over 500,000 college graduates will soon leave the halls of their academic institutions, eager to enter the dynamic world of work. But with Philippine unemployment rate rising to a nine-month high at 7.5 percent in January, will they have good chances of landing a job?

Getting a diploma is no assurance of getting employed immediately as the latest jobs data reveal that one-fifth (19.8 percent) of jobless Filipinos were college graduates, while 34 percent were high school graduates.

The latest jobless rate, which is an increase from last year’s 7.1 percent, could be even higher as the January labor force survey did not cover the provinces in Eastern Visayas that were heavily devastated by super typhoon Yolanda.

Jobless growth

The unemployment picture does not coincide with the Philippine economy’s strong performance, which is currently next only to China’s sustained growth. Last year, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) surpassed projections as it grew by 7.2 percent.

Such jobless growth has baffled even President Benigno Aquino III, who pressed his Cabinet on the results on the action plan for poverty reduction. But a closer look at foreign capital flows may provide a hint why robust economic growth rates did not translate to more jobs for Filipinos.

Aside from overseas remittances, private capital flows are providing the added buoy to the Philippine economy, albeit on a temporary basis. Private capital flows include foreign direct investments (FDIs) and portfolio investments or hot money. Between the two, FDI has the potential to create jobs as portfolios are as good as fictitious capital.

Last year hot money inflows, which include stock market shares and bonds grew by 8 percent to $4 billion, the highest since 1999. This large amount money never crossed to the real economy, say for example to finance the construction of new factories or offices, as portfolio investors are interested in generating returns in the shortest time possible. On the other hand, FDI surged to 20 percent to $3.86 billion in 2013. More than half of this FDI went to debt instruments, meaning parent companies mainly lent to their local subsidiaries either to finance existing operations or for expansion.

Folly of FDI

But FDIs do not necessarily lead to job generation based on the Philippines’ experience. Think-tank Ibon Foundation noted that the cumulative FDI stock has doubled from US$10 billion in 1995 to $19 billion in 2007, yet the unemployment levels hardly changed.

“FDI supposedly goes towards building a strong productive economic base. However, there is nothing to indicate that all that FDI has contributed to creating a strong domestic economy able to create jobs on a sustainable basis. On the contrary, the number of jobless Filipinos has continued to rise, and the 2001-2008 period is already the worst eight-year period of recorded unemployment in the country’s history,” IBON Foundation said.

Such data on jobs and FDI dispute claims by those staunchly pushing Charter change (Cha-cha) which seeks to lift constitutional limits on foreign ownership.

FDI, if channeled to productive sectors, are also mostly going to manufacturing, transport and storage within special economic zones outside Metro Manila where wages are very low and where working conditions are dismal. Continue reading

Questions from A Worker Who Reads

While checking our library for old issues of Datos (Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research’s magazine), I stumbled into a 1991 issue containing messages of solidarity for EILER’s 10th anniversary. One of the messages was from a journalist named Karl Rossel based in Cologne, Germany. Rossel, a member of journalists’ collective Rheiniches Journalisten Buro, included some parts of Bertolt Bretcht’s beautiful poem “Questions of a Well-Read Worker” in his message to illustrate how the ruling class obliterates the role which workers and the masses played in the progress of empires and societies.

Who built the ancient city of Theben with its seven gates?

The books only mention the names of kings.

But did the kings carry along all the stones?

Where – in the golden city of Lima  – were the houses of craftsmen?

On the evening, when the Chinese wall was finished, where did the bricklayers go?


When Alexander conquered India, was he alone?…

Did he not even take a cook with him?

Philipp of Spain weeped, when his fleet was gone down?

Did nobody else cry?…

Every few years another famous man.

Who paid the costs?

So many reports

So many questions.”

Rossel said “people of EILER and the workers – well-read or not – ask questions like this,” adding that Filipino workers could have framed the questions in this way:

When the coconut and sugar plantation of landlords were built,

were there no Philippine peasants around?

When Mac Arthur “liberated” Manila in 1945, did no Filipino help him?

When Aquino talked about people’s power,

did she stop the military at Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo by herself?

How — in the  city where Malacanang Palace stands — do the workers live

and where are the houses of those who cannot even find work?

Every few years another president.

But who pays the costs?

So many reports.

So many questions.

How Brecht’s poem was localized by Rossel could not be any more better. Indeed, the role of the people in history’s progression is consistently stricken off from the books, to give more space for the exaggerated heroism of a select few. Such is the myopic and bourgeois perspective of history that looks at individuals rather than on throngs of people turning the wheels of change.

This is the same lopsided historical perspective which the Aquino government – and all other previous regimes – is guilty of. 

Every few years another president, another episode of deception, corruption, and economic sabotage. The people pays the costs. 


Post-Yolanda: Aquino’s disaster conspiracy with World Bank, ADB

first published on Blogwatch


Filipinos will foot an even bigger foreign debt bill in the coming years as some development agencies opted to dump multi-billion loans instead of providing full financial grants to the victims of super typhoon Yolanda. It is strange that the Aquino government – which brags of realigned and unused pork funds in billions – readily accepted the new debt ties.

In the minds of the skeptical few, why do we have to accept new loans to pursue rehabilitation efforts when there are billions of foreign aid pouring in and when there are also billions of discretionary funds, now mostly under the President’s control in the wake of the abolition of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) program?

A month after Yolanda ripped through the country, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) signed a $500-million emergency loan to provide support in shelter and reconstruction, power restoration, livelihood, resettlement and psychosocial care, and environment protection. The loan was the first phase of its “support” for the typhoon victims.

ADB fueling corruption?

The ADB then pledged an additional $372-million loan and a $23-million grant, bringing the total financial package to about $900 million (P39.9 billion). The additional $372-million loan will support the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS), a program under Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman which is tainted with anomalies. A former employee at the DSWD bared that funds under the program were allegedly misused by some government officials. Continue reading